Irish Champion Hurdle Tips: Sharjah can upset the mare

Sharjah picked up a third career Grade 1 success at Leopardstown last month.
Sharjah picked up a third career Grade 1 success at Leopardstown last month.

Jack Cousin previews Saturday’s Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, as several aim to cement their claims for the English equivalent at the Cheltenham Festival…

The Irish Champion Hurdle looks set to be a cracker of a renewal, with the unbeaten mare Honeysuckle primed to take on three-time Grade 1 winner Sharjah, while last year’s Supreme winner Klassical Dream and two previous Irish Champion Hurdle victors in Supasundae and Petit Mouchoir add further spice to the mix. The Henry de Bromhead-trained Honeysuckle is the current market leader, and she arrives here having been flawless in her six career starts to date, including last month when registering a first Grade 1 success in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse, when comfortably seeing off the talented duo of Bacardys and Apple’s Jade.

Earlier in the week, her trainer had expressed worries about the drying ground, an issue that resulted in 22 non-runners on the Sunday of last year’s festival. Leopardstown chiefs are taking action to ensure that the ground will be fit for purpose though, and with the going on the hurdle course currently soft, yielding in places, it looks likely that she will take her chance.

Perhaps more of a concern for the daughter of Sulamani is the drop back from two-and-a-half miles to two miles, with connections preferring the timing of this contest over the Quevega Mares’ Hurdle at Punchestown and the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park, which are both later this month. It’s worth noting that she did win a listed contest on her only previous start over this trip at Thurles in 2018, but de Bromhead acknowledges that this will be a different test, particularly when you considering that this will be the first time that she will run left-handed under Rules. It shouldn’t be an issue bearing in mind that she won a point-to-point in April 2018 going left-handed and there’s no evidence from her jumping that it will be a problem, but it’s still worth taking into consideration. Nevertheless, she’s got more scope than any of her opposition and receives a 7 lb mares’ allowance to boot, so she’s a worthy favourite.

However, with those ever so slight concerns lingering, step forward Sharjah, who looks a solid contender to provide Willie Mullins with his first Irish Champion Hurdle winner since Faugheen in 2016. The County Carlow-based trainer previously enjoyed great success in the contest, saddling Hurricane Fly to five consecutive victories between 2011 and 2015, and Sharjah looks the strongest of his four runners this time around.

Sharjah recorded a first Grade 1 success last season when easily defeating stablemate Faugheen in the Morgiana Hurdle, and although that form came under scrutiny at the time, he proved it to be no fluke when following up in the Matheson Hurdle a month later, defeating subsequent Aintree Hurdle winner Supasundae and Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon in the process. He was unable to make a serious bid for the Champion Hurdle through no fault of his own, due to being brought down by Buveur D’Air, but he’s quickly bounced back from that, building on a reappearance run by winning the Matheson for the second year in a row last time, and he is one to take very seriously here. 

Along with Sharjah, Willie Mullins is likely to saddle Klassical Dream and Aramon. The former was a very talented novice last season, winning three Grade 1 contests including the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. He was touted as a potential champion in waiting at the beginning of the season as a consequence, but things haven’t quite gone to plan so far, and he’s been turned over at odds-on favouritism in both of his starts so far this term, including when making a race-ending mistake in the Matheson last time out. Meanwhile, Aramon made his seasonal reappearance in the same race, finishing fourth and will have to improve to get closer to his stablemate.  

With Apple’s Jade a late withdrawal, we’re left with two previous winners of the race in Petit Mouchoir (2017) and Supasundae (2018). Petit Mouchoir has endured a couple of years in the wilderness since his success here, but he’s produced two creditable efforts place in Grade 1 company the last twice and could well hit the frame again. Supasundae was more productive last season, and picked up a third career Grade 1 success when seeing off Buveur D’Air in the Aintree Hurdle last April. He has fitness to prove here on the back of a 274-day absence, and he is perhaps best watched.  

Outsiders Darver Star, Monsieur Lecoq, Ballycaines and Saglawy remain entered and would complete a quality laden field, though all four would need more for win purposes, and it’s Sharjah who looks the best bet here.

Selection 

Irish Champion Hurdle, Leopardstown, Saturday 1st February 2020 –  back Sharjah at 9/4. 

Irish Champion Hurdle
Sharjah silk

Sharjah

lost

Looked as good as ever when landing the Matheson last time out. He travelled well and stayed on impressively with Petit Mouchoir, Aramon and Klassical Dream all behind him. With some, admittedly slight, doubts about the ground, trip and course for his nearest market rival Honeysuckle, the proven nous of Sharjah is taken to get the job done. 

Cheltenham Festival Tips
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